Parents and siblings packed into the amphitheater to see the Class of 2017 graduate but an overflow crowd was directed to watch the ceremony on livestream in the auditorium, or from the sidewalk.
PHOTO BY NEIL GRABOWSKY

By ERIN ROLL
roll@montclairlocal.news

Montclair High School’s graduating seniors may have crossed the bridge over Toney’s Brook for the last time.

The longstanding tradition of the senior class crossing the footbridge before taking their seats in the amphitheater for the commencement ceremony lost some of its luster after parents with tickets were turned away at graduation on Thursday because of overcrowding in the outdoor venue.

Some parents who were shut out are calling for the ceremony to be held at a larger venue in the future.

Barbara Pinsak, interim schools superintendent, said the district may have to look at other venues for the Class of 2018.

On Thursday evening, the crowd of parents, siblings, and other relatives overflowed the amphitheater and out onto the school grounds and sidewalks.

Nancy Witters, whose son, Ben Wilson, graduated last week, said that her family and several other families were turned away at the amphitheater entrance. They were told they could stand on the sidewalk or watch the ceremony on a live feed in the school auditorium.

Witters said students are given three tickets for family members if the ceremony is taking place outdoors. If the ceremony takes place indoors because of bad weather, each student gets two tickets.

Witters’ husband, Neal Wilson, dropped Ben off at the school at 5:15, and “saw that there was a tremendous amount of people there,” Witters said.

The scheduled start of the ceremony was 6 p.m. Witters and the rest of the family, including her mother, arrived at 5:45 p.m. There was a long line of people waiting to get into the amphitheater.

But when the Witters-Wilson family came to the gate, the security people stopped them and said the amphitheater was filled to capacity.

“They said, ‘You can’t come in,’” Witters said.

There were at least 25 to 30 people behind them, Witters remembered, most of them holding tickets.

They were given the option of watching the ceremony from the sidewalk or going to the school auditorium to watch a live feed of the ceremony.

Witters said that she had reached out to Interim Superintendent Barbara Pinsak about the issue, but had not heard back from her as of Monday afternoon.

Pinsak said via email on Monday that she had not heard from parents who were denied entry, “although they may have spoken with others.

“I’ve been told that this is a recurring issue at graduation. The amphitheater is a lovely space, but our graduating classes are large. We may need to look into other venues for 17-18, but that is a break in tradition and may not be well-received either,” she said.

Pinsak has been Montclair’s interim superintendent since March.

Witters shared the story of her family’s seating problems on social media and immediately heard from several other Montclair families who said the lack of adequate seating at graduation has been a problem since at least as far back as the 1970s. They also complained about accessibility in the amphitheater.

“It was so bad one year we all just decided not to attend the graduation at all,” said Kerry Prichard in an email. Prichard’s three children graduated from MHS in the 2000s.

Many Facebook posters suggested moving the ceremony to Woodman Field and having the senior class procession on Chestnut Street, or renting a theater or other indoor venue that could accommodate large crowds.

“It’s unfortunate that after 15 years of watching my son go through the school system, and being a taxpayer, I’m having to watch his graduation on closed-circuit TV,” Witters said.

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